Durban - A Pietermaritzburg woman who continues to be haunted by her experience of being abducted with the aim of ukuthwala (forced marriage) more than 40 years ago says the practice is nothing but a strong violation of women’s rights.
For 10 years, the woman, who asked that her name be withheld, said she lived her life in fear and even stopped going to school during that period, afraid of the possibility of being snatched while on her way to school.
She was just 17 and was walking to a relative’s house near her home in Umkhambathini, a rural area close to Cato Ridge, with her younger sister when she was approached by a group of men, one of whom had made repeated love proposals she had declined.
Ukuthwala was traditionally intended for people of the same age group who, in the normal course of events, would have been expected to marry.
Older men did not engage in ukuthwala and it was not intended to involve minor children. Abducting and sexually assaulting a girl were unknown.
The woman said that without warning the men grabbed her aggressively and told her she was going with them and that if she refused, she would be beaten with the sjambok they were carrying.
“Because I had seen other women being beaten up before during this practice, I told them to give me time to explain to my little sister that I will meet her at our relative’s home.
“I pulled her to the side and told her to run back home and tell our mother.”
Her sister did so and the woman believes this saved her life.
On the way to her abductor’s house, the woman was constantly pushed around and was threatened with the sjambok if she tried to run away.
“As we walked I kept on praying that my mother would come and rescue me soon,” she said.
“When we were near his house, I told him that I was shy to walk in as I was not dressed properly and that it would be better to walk in when it was darker.”
To her surprise, her abductor agreed, not knowing that she was just buying time in the hope of her mother getting there soon.
He sat with her and she could see the preparations for her arrival taking place and people singing.
She said she had known that once inside the home the family would use “muti” that would allegedly make her not want to go home.
“We had heard of such things happening and I could not be forced to marry a man that I did not love.
“My mother came running and was calling out for me. They threatened to beat me up if I responded.”
After her mother called out to her more than three times, she had decided to take a risk and answer.
Filled with fear she looked around to see where her mother was and spotted her from the hill where they had been sitting, walking to her abductor’s house.
“They threatened to beat me up, but I called out for my mother. The moment she looked up and saw me, I just ran down the hill.”
The woman’s mother had been extremely angry and was shouting at the parents of the boy.
“She told them to never let their son come near me again. By that time my abductor and his friends had run away.”
In the heat of things, her abductor’s family tried to persuade her mother to allow her daughter to stay.
Her mother threatened to call the police if they did not let her go, the woman said.
Her mother had also told the family she did not believe in the practice and that they should leave her daughter alone.
“That was my chance to escape, but he never stopped trying to abduct me.
“He even came to my relative’s house one night and tried to take me from there. I fought him off and managed to lock myself in my room.”
It was after that incident that she realised that she was not safe. Her fear of being taken against her will eventually led her to drop out of Grade 11 just to avoid crossing paths with the man.
“I stayed at home and was constantly afraid. I was afraid for 10 years until I left the area. With him out of sight I, at the age of 27, finally got a chance to complete school. It was not easy and was rather embarrassing, but I did it.”
The woman later married a man she loved and became a teacher, but she says the experience left her scarred.
She described the practice as a great violation of the rights of women and said parents who played a part in “selling” their children should be ashamed of themselves.
“I was lucky that my mom loved me enough to come and fetch me.
“We have a right to choose whom we love and a right to choose whom we marry.
“It is traumatic and what makes it worse is that people just watch when you are being abducted.”
Having experienced the practice, the woman said the men involved in ukuthwala don’t feel guilty about it and no one tells them they are wrong.
“Since we are now in a democratic country, as a Zulu woman who’s experienced this practice first hand, I feel there’s nothing good about it.
“It’s yet another form of woman abuse.”